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What Is a Silicon Transistor?

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  • Written By: James Doehring
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 15 April 2014
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A silicon transistor is a semiconductor made with a silicon base. It is used in a wide variety of electronic devices, such as televisions and phones, to alter the flow of electrical current. Silicon has largely replaced germanium in transistors because of its ability to continue operating at high temperatures. The silicon transistor has other advantages over alternative materials, such as production cost, and thus is mass-produced in industrialized countries today.

A transistor is a device with an intermediate or variable electrical conductivity. It is used to amplify and divert electrical currents in electronic devices. This is typically done with a separate input signal that controls the flow of electricity through the transistor. The input signal can be changed by varying its voltage. Many transistors bundled together form an integrated circuit.

Texas Instruments, an American company, was the first to produce a silicon transistor in 1954. Before this, transistors were made of the element germanium. Germanium transistors worked fine at low temperatures, but had trouble at higher ones. If the transistors heated up, too many electrons would be freed from the germanium atoms. This was a major problem, because transistors only work with a limited number of electrons moving around.

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The silicon transistor has shown much greater resistance to heat than its germanium counterpart. There was an initial problem in the production process of the silicon transistor, however. Raw silicon has defects in its crystal structure that would interfere with the functioning of a transistor. Engineers had to figure out how to transform the silicon into a single crystal with a repeating atomic structure. Eventually, these techniques were developed, and the silicon transistor was put into mass production.

In fact, using silicon to make integrated circuits proved to have other advantages, including lower production cost and greater power handling. Rather than manufacturing transistors individually, they are “printed” many at a time onto a silicon base. Every year, the total number of transistors produced is many millions times larger than the population of Earth. Many billions in US Dollars (USD) are spent every year on silicon transistors.

Silicon transistors can be found in many household devices, including computers, digital cameras and cell phones. They can also be found in some less obvious places. Automobiles, washing machines and many coffee makers use silicon chips to process information. Temperature-control and security devices often use chips to communicate with larger networks, such as the network of an entire house, building or complex.

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